Bulgaria Marks 810 Years since Victory over Latin Empire Knights of Fourth Crusade in Battle of Adrianople

This picture from the Multimedia Visitors' Center at the Regional Museum of History in Bulgaria's Veliko Tarnovo shows an imagined scene of the capture of Latin Emperor Baldwin I of Constantinople by Bulgarian Tsar Kaloyan in the Battle of Adrianople, April 14, 1205. Photo: Multimedia Visitors' Center, Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History

This depiction from the Multimedia Visitors’ Center at the Regional Museum of History in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo shows an imagined scene of the capture of Latin Emperor Baldwin I of Constantinople by Bulgarian Tsar Kaloyan in the Battle of Adrianople, April 14, 1205. Photo: Multimedia Visitors’ Center, Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History

Bulgaria marks on Tuesday, April 14, 2015, the 810th anniversary since its major victory in the Battle of Adrianople in which the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) under Tsar Kaloyan (r. 1197-1207) routed the knights from the Fourth Crusade of the Latin Empire (1204-1261 AD) under Emperor Baldwin I of Constantinople, also known as Baldwin of Flanders.

The victory of Tsar Kaloyan (who is also known as “the Greek-slayer” or “Roman-slayer”) in the Battle of Adrianople crippled the newborn Latin Empire established in 1204 AD by the Western European knights from the Fourth Crusade, who, instead of heading for the Holy Lands and Jerusalem as originally stated, ransacked Constantinople, the capital of Christian Byzantium.

It also allowed Bulgaria to reconquer its former territories in the geographic regions of Thrace and Macedonia, and established the Second Bulgarian Empire further as the most powerful state in Southeast Europe, restoring much of the glory of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD) from the 9th-10th century.

“[The Crusaders from the Latin Empire] had territorial claims for all of Bulgaria’s territory since they viewed as part of the conquered Byzantine Empire. This went on regardless of Bulgaria’s recognition by the Papacy. We know that this motivated [the Bulgarian Tsar] Kaloyan in his contacts with Pope Innocent III. On 7-8 November [1204], there was a church union between Bulgaria and the Roman Curia but this did not change essentially [Bulgaria’s] relations with the Crusaders, and this clash followed,” explains Plamen Pavlov, a history professor at Veliko Tarnovo University “St. Cyril and St. Methodius”, in an interview for the Bulgarian information agency Focus.

Prof. Plamen Pavlov adds that even though the clash between the Second Bulgarian Empire and the Latin Empire was the Crusaders’ fault it was fully in line with the policy of Bulgaria’s Tsar Kaloyan, and his elder brothers and predecessors, Tsar Asen and Tsar Petar IV, for expanding Bulgaria and claiming the throne of the Byzantine Emperors in Constantinople.

As soon as Tsar Asen I (r. 1187-1196) and Tsar Petar IV (r. 1186-1197) (who ruled as co-emperors, and were succeeded by their young brother Tsar Kaloyan, r. 1197-1207) liberated Bulgaria from Byzantium, they resumed the ancient Bulgarian claim for the Constantinople throne assuming the title “Tsar of Bulgarians and Greeks”, a reminiscence of the title of Tsar Simeon I the Great from the First Bulgarian Empire who took the title “Tsar of Bulgarians and Romans” after his victory in the Battle of Anchialos (Battle of Achelous) in 917 AD. Tsar Kaloyan was declared by the Roman Papacy rex Bulgarorum et Blachorum (“King of Bulgarians and Wallachians”).

Pavlov explains that after the Western European Crusaders conquered Constantinople it was the Byzantines themselves who approached Bulgaria’s Tsar Kaloyan promising him to recognize him as their emperor.

Reconstruction of the face of Tsar Kaloyan unveiled in 2008 based on his skeleton found in 1972 in the Forty Holy Martyrs Church in Bulgaria's Veliko Tarnovo. Photo: BGNES

Reconstruction of the face of Tsar Kaloyan unveiled in 2008 based on his skeleton found in 1972 in the Forty Holy Martyrs Church in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo. Photo: BGNES

Regardless of the Bulgarian ambitions for expansion, however, Tsar Kaloyan did try to establish good relations with the Latin knights both before and the after their capture of Constantinople, but was turned out with disdain.

The conquest of Constantinople itself occurred after in January 1203, en route to Jerusalem, the Crusaders made an agreement with Byzantine prince Alexios Angelos to restore his deposed father as emperor. In August 1203, after clashes outside Constantinople, Alexios Angelos was crowned as co-Emperor with Crusader support as Alexios IV alongside his blinded father, Isaac II Angelos (r. 1185-1195, 1203-1204 AD). However in January 1204, Alexios IV Angleos was deposed by a popular uprising in Constantinople, and was murdered on February 8, 1204. In April 1204, the discontent Crusaders captured and brutally ransacked the city setting up the Latin Empire, and partitioning the conquered Byzantine territories among themselves as feuds.

Pavlov explains that the Battle of Adrianople occurred after several Byzantine cities in Thrace including Adrianople rebelled against the Latin Empire, and that the fortress of Adrianople had been besieged for 1-2 weeks by the Crusader knights before the Bulgarian Tsar Kaloyan arrived with his Bulgarian and Cuman troops.

After that Tsar Kaloyan used the light Cuman cavalry in order to harass the Latin Empire troops, and lure them into a pursuit and ambush. His plan failed to work on April 13, 1205, even though some of the Crusader forces led by Louis I, Count of Blois, engaged in pursuit of the Cuman cavalry, and was later reprimanded by Emperor Baldwin. However, the ambush plan worked the following day, on April 14, when the Crusaders chased the Cumans and fell into the trap.

In his interview dedicated to the Battle of Adrianople, Prof. Pavlov reminds that what is pretty much the only known figure about the troops of the Second Bulgarian Empire involved in the battle – the 14,000-strong Cuman cavalry – comes from the “History of Eastern Roman Empire” written by Byzantine official, historian, and contemporary of the events, Niketas Choniates (ca. 1155- ca. 1215-1216).

Pavlov explains that the Cumans, who were allied with Bulgaria, lived north of the Danube, and needed time to reach the Bulgarian territory. They usually engaged in military campaigns in the colder seasons since in the summer they retreated north as a part of their economic lifestyle.

“[The hypothesis] that the Cumans were the main force of Tsar Kaloyan is very prevalent in international historiography, and to some extent in Bulgarian historiography. Their number was indeed high, and that is a fact… On April 14, the Cuman cavalry attacked the Crusaders again. It must be noted that the Crusaders underestimated the Cumans and viewed them with contempt because of their light arms. This comes to show that the major merit for the victory belongs to the Bulgarian army, and that the heavily armored troops belonged to Tsar Kaloyan. The Cumans play an important but auxiliary part… [It was] the Bulgarian army who had heavy arms. The problem here was in the military tactics. The Latin knights, who were mostly French, used a military tactic of attacking in several major detachments [concentrating] the entire might of the heavy cavalry. That is why Tsar Kaloyan resorted to an ambush,” elaborates the Bulgarian historian.

“There is a wrong perception in the public today that the knights were pulled down from their horses [with hooks]. That is true but it isn’t true that once they fell they were helpless. A knight’s armor weighed no more than 25-30 kg which is about the weight of arms carried by modern-day infantrymen. In fact, the knights were involved in infantry battles very often. That is why the element of surprise and the power of the Bulgarian army were key,” he adds.

“[Another] of the wrong interpretations of the battle is that Bulgaria had a total military superiority, and the knights were only a few hundred men… Tsar Kaloyan did indeed have superiority but it wasn’t nearly as great as many write. The involvement of 300-400 knights must not be understood literally. Every knight has henchmen, sometimes up to 20, he also has infantry detachments accompanying him. Then, there were also archers and Venetian forces. This means that the two armies were similar [in size]. Of course, the Bulgarian army had superiority but an attacking army must always enjoy superiority, and this speaks of the excellent strategic decisions made by Tsar Kaloyan,” Pavlov explains.

A map explaining the course of the Battle of Adrianople on April 14, 1205. The Crusader knights besieging the rebelling city of Adrianople were harassed and lured into pursuit by lightly armored Cuman cavalry, and fell into the ambush of the heavily armored Bulgarian forces. Map: Kandi, Wikipedia

A map explaining the course of the Battle of Adrianople on April 14, 1205. The Crusader knights besieging the rebelling city of Adrianople were harassed and lured into pursuit by lightly armored Cuman cavalry, and fell into the ambush of the heavily armored Bulgarian forces. Map: Kandi, Wikipedia

He says further that the Battle of Adrianople was an utter defeat for the Crusaders, and that Count Louis I of Blois was to blame since he broke for the second time the decision of the knights’ military council, and engaged the Cuman cavalry. The Doge of Venice Enrico Dandolo (Henry Dandolo, Henricus Dandulus) (in office 1192-1205 AD), in Pavlov’s words, the “social engineer” of the Fourth Crusade, who was really old, died of exhaustion during the battle, which “beheaded” the enemy of the Bulgarians. Count Louis of Blois was killed in the battle, as were most of the knights, and Emperor Baldwin I of Constantinople (Baldwin of Flanders) was taken captive.

“This was a crushing blow to the Latin Empire. Even though it existed until 1261 AD, it could not carry out its original designs. Another important result [from the Battle of Adrianople] which has been underscored by many scholars is the survival of the Byzantine world. Thanks to Tsar Kaloyan, the Nicean Empire and the Despotate of Epirus survived. His achievement is not just for Bulgaria, which managed to establish political hegemony in the Balkans and to unite much of its lands… Tsar Kaloyan had many military victories. This was [technically] a war with an international coalition because [the Crusaders] had troops from France, Germany, Italy – the world of the Western knighthood… The significance of his policy was that very shortly after the Rebellion of Petar and Asen Bulgaria was turned from a forgotten Byzantine province into a powerful state on the European stage… We see that it is possible in just 20 years to turn a formerly subdued territory into a regional power,” the Bulgarian historian sums up.

A map showing the territorial expansion of Bulgaria achieved during the reign of Tsar Kaloyan (r.1197-1207 AD). Map: Kandi, Wikipedia

A map showing the territorial expansion of Bulgaria achieved during the reign of Tsar Kaloyan (r.1197-1207 AD). Map: Kandi, Wikipedia

Another map showing the territorial expansion of Bulgaria achieved during the reign of Tsar Kaloyan (r.1197-1207 AD). Map: Kandi, Wikipedia

Another map showing the territorial expansion of Bulgaria achieved during the reign of Tsar Kaloyan (r.1197-1207 AD). Map: Kandi, Wikipedia

Pavlov points out that no archaeological excavations have been carried out on the site of the Battle of Adrianople which is near the point where the rivers of Tundzha and Arda flow into the Maritsa River southeast of the Bulgarian border, in today’s Turkey. However, he specifies that the battle did not occur at a single spot but on a large-scale military theater.

Bulgaria recently celebrated 785 years since another of the most important victories in its 1400-year history: the victory of Tsar Ivan Asen II (r. 1218-1241 AD), ruler of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD), against the powerful Theodore Komnenos Doukas (r. 1216-1230 AD), ruler of the Despotate of Epirus, in the Battle of Klokotnitsa in 1230 AD.

And on October 25, 2015, Bulgaria will be celebrating 830 years since the Rebellion of Asen and Petar which liberated it from Byzantium, and created the Second Bulgarian Empire (later the brothers became Tsar Asen I, r. 1187-1196, and Tsar Petar IV, r. 1186-1197; they ruled as co-emperors, and were succeeded by their young brother, Tsar Kaloyan, r. 1197-1207).

Veliko Tarnovo University professor Plamen Pavlov has also spoken about the upcoming anniversary of Bulgaria’s Liberation from Byzantium in 1185.

“This is an important example of how we liberated ourselves. The matrix instilled in the mind of today’s Bulgarians is that somebody liberates us, and that we need patrons. The case with Tsar Petar and Tsar Asen shows that a mobilization of a society’s forces, and leaders with clear goals and a strong political will can yield results,” Pavlov concludes, possibly referring to more recent historical events such as the Liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman Turkish Empire by the Russian Empire in 1878, the de facto occupation of Bulgaria by the Soviet Union during World War II in 1944, and the end of the communist regime in 1989.

Background Infonotes:

The Battle of Adrianople (in 1205) took place on April 13 and April 14, 1205 AD. In it the forces of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) under Tsar Kaloyan (r. 1197-1207) routed the knights of the Fourth Crusade from the Latin Empire (1204-1261 AD) under Emperor Baldwin I on Constantinople, also known as Baldwin of Flanders.

The Battle of Adrianople in 1205 resulted from the growing enmity between the Western European knights from the Fourth Crusade and the Bulgarian Empire, after in 1204 the Crusaders deviated from their goal of taking Jerusalem, and instead ransacked Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire,  founding their Latin Empire. Even though by that time the Bulgarian Tsar Kaloyan had established good relations with Pope Innocent III in Rome who organized the Fourth Crusade, the Western European (mostly French) knights demanded the obedience of the Bulgarian Tsar arguing that since they had taken Constantinople, they had a right to the entire supposedly Byzantine domain, including all of Bulgaria, which had liberated itself from Byzantium 20 years earlier. The conquest of Constantinople itself occurred after in January 1203, en route to Jerusalem, the Crusaders made an agreement with Byzantine prince Alexios Angelos to restore his deposed father as emperor. In August 1203, after clashes outside Constantinople, Alexios Angelos was crowned as co-Emperor with Crusader support as Alexios IV alongside his blinded father, Isaac II Angelos (r. 1185-1195, 1203-1204 AD). However in January 1204, Alexios IV was deposed by a popular uprising in Constantinople, and was murdered on 8 February 1204. In April 1204, the discontent Crusaders captured and brutally ransacked the city setting up the Latin Empire, and partitioning the conquered Byzantine territories among themselves as feuds.

The 1205 Battle of Adrianople was won by the Bulgarians and their Cuman allies, after an ambush. The Bulgarian forces are estimated to have been around 40,000 troops, including 14,000 lightly armed Cuman cavalry. The Crusaders’ forces are also estimated at tens of thousands, including 300 West European heavy mounted knights. Most of the 300 Western European knights were killed in the Battle of Adrianople, making it one of the greatest defeats ever suffered by Crusaders. Latin Emperor Baldwin I of Constantinople (Baldwin of Flanders) was taken prisoner and died in captivity after a year later. He was kept in a fortress tower in the then Bulgarian capital Tarnovgrad (today’s Veliko Tarnovo) which is known to this day as Baldwin’s Tower. It is unknown how exactly he died, especially since it is believed that he was treated well at first. There are stipulations that he was killed by the Bulgarian Tsar Kaloyan in a fit of rage, possibly over a revolt in Philipopolis (today’s Plovdiv) which led the city to be surrendered to the Latin Empire. A Bulgarian legend has it that Baldwin found his death after trying to seduce the Bulgarian Tsaritsa (i.e. empress).

After the Battle of Adrianople, the Second Bulgarian Empire overran most of the geographic regions of Thrace and Macedonia. The first Latin Emperor Baldwin was succeeded by his younger brother, Henry of Flanders, who took the throne on August 20, 1206. Bulgaria and the Nicean Empire (one of the three successor states of Byzantium, which ultimately restored it in 1261 AD) made an alliance against the Latin Empire. In 1207, the Bulgarians attacked and killed Marquess Boniface of Montferrat, a feudal lord with French and Italian estates who in 1202 AD became the leader of the Fourth Crusade and King of Thessaloniki (r. 1205-1207). He was beheaded at Messinopolis, and his head was sent to Tsar Kaloyan. One of the major written sources for the Battle of Adrianople is the Chronicles of Geoffrey de Villehardouin, a French knight and historian who chronicled the Fourth Crusade.